Monday, 30 April 2012


So, after a month spent reviewing of Edge Hill Prize longlisted collections (there are thirty one this year) I am finally blogging about online friend Nik Perring's new release. I'm somewhat late to this party and there's probably no nibbles left, but at least I'm here.

Freaks is a collaboration between writers Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes, and illustrator Darren Craske. It's a collection of fifty short stories about people with real and imagined superpowers. With its snappy stories and graphic novel style, I suspect Freaks is a book that my teenage son would especially enjoy. Talking about the stories, Nik says, 'There's a woman who can freeze time, and a boy who can talk to insects. There's a girl who can fly but can't quite get her landings right. There's a minotaur. A chameleon girl. A plastic boy. There are letters. And ghosts. Even a mermaid.'

If I had to pick a superpower, I think I would choose the ability to read super fast. Not only would super fast reading power help me with my PhD, it would be an antidote to the horrible truth that there are thousands of wonderful books which I will never have the time to read.  

Here's a taster from Freaks:

The ability to make
oneself unseen to
the naked eye


If I stay totally still,
if I stand right tall,
with me back against the school wall,
close to the science room’s window,
with me feet together,
pointing straight,
aiming forward,
if I make me hands into tight fists,
make me arms dead straight,
if I push me arms into me sides,
if I squeeze me thighs,
stop me wee,
if me belly doesn’t shake,
if me boobs don’t wobble,
if I close me eyes tight,
so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,
if I push me lips into me mouth,
if I make me teeth bite me lips together,
if I hardly breathe,
if I don’t say a word.
I’ll magic meself invisible,
and them lasses will leave me alone.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Chameleon ~ Beda Higgins

Chameleon-120Chameleon is a lovely collection of beautifully written, sad and funny stories. The opening story 'Haunted' is an authentically imagined story about friendship. Ten year old Kirsty's jealousy is palpable and it leads her to do something terrible. 'The Quiet Man' is a satisfyingly wicked look at hidden depths and the resentment that builds when a new wife steals every moment of her husband's peace. In 'True Love' it is the old man Jim, and not the young narrator who understands what love is. 'Poor Clare' is an emotionally charged story about first love, transgression and the hope of absolution. There are supernatural and fairy tale elements in many of these satisfying and well-written stories. Beda Higgins's story 'Wiggy' won the 2009 Mslexia competition.

Read a review here.
Visit Beda's website here.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Lying Together ~ Gaynor Arnold

These short stories are so packed with life that each could easily stretch into a novel. Set during the Second World War, 'Looking for Leslie Howard' sees waitress Elsie discovering that a beautiful young man she admires is a conscientious objector. Arnold's writing is seamless and the characters are compelling: I would happily read the novel 'Looking for Leslie Howard' (if such a book existed). Each story in this collection is meticulously situated, from the modern day setting of 'Telling Radnor' to the reexamination of the past in 'Angel Child' the reader is instantly immersed in the beautifully constructed world of the story. The title story 'Lying Together' sees Glenys trying to get her 'thoughts straight through the mist' as she spends a fortnight with Bill. 'Taking People In' offers a glimpse into another world and the aforementioned 'Angel Child' contrasts beautifully with its predecessor 'Mouth.' The stories in this collection have been described as 'full of humanity but entirely without sentimentality.'

Read a review here and here.
Read interviews with Gaynor Arnold here and here.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Funderland ~ Nigel Jarrett

The title story of this collection is not for anyone who is nervous at the fairground. 'Funderland' sees Dale recalling a roller coaster accident with devastating clarity. He remembers how the car 'became wedged, somehow pinned by gravity into a corner from where he could see Johnny and Rose plummeting like rag dolls to their deaths.' It's a striking opening to a sensitive and revealing collection. In 'A Point of Dishonour' the narrator visits a writer, Kramer, who has written a book about soldiers that were court-martialled and shot in the Great War. The narrator's grandfather features in the book and she brings with her a newspaper clipping that shows her grandfather in a new and disturbing light. It is a subtle story in which what isn't said is important. Kramer hands the newspaper clipping back and becomes kurt, ' if I had deliberately tried to embarrass him, and he twice looked at his watch without saying anything about soon having to attend to something else.' In 'Ornithology' depression is linked to the disappearance of birds as a woman misses their 'madness in the air.' Jarrett's writing is varied and musical.

Read a review of Funderland here.
Read an interview with Nigel Jarrett here.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Listen Close to Me ~ Catherine Eisner

Eisner's collection is subtitled, Hidden Lives of Love, Madness, Murder, Loss and Deception, and while the sense of madness and loss is amplified by the book's extraordinary and disturbing cover, there is also a tremendous sense of fun here. Eisner makes use of intriguing subheadings and 'source material' such as newspaper clippings, graphs, poetry, diary pages and extracts from old school books. There are just five stories in this 228 page collection and these are followed by a series of graphological notes on the handwriting of various characters. 'Lovesong in Invisible Ink' is a digressive and knowing narrative that spans decades. The narrator is self-deprecating and likable; there's no Reader, I married him here, it's 'reader, I slept with him.' The title story is the last testament of its asexual narrator. It's a odd story, full of strange characters and erotic imagery: the narrator's husband refers to her as his 'long noodle,' and poor Uncle Irving's body has to be identified by dental records - all that is left of him is his toupee. The stories in this collection are dark and the characters are 'driven by bizarre and sometimes criminal compulsions.'

Read an interview with Catherine Eisner here.
Catherine Eisner's blog.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Saints and Sinners ~ Edna O'Brien

Saints and Sinners book coverThis collection of eleven stories won the Frank O'Connor Award. It's a collection that's packed full of 'the sad and the stranded, the hopeful and the lovelorn'. In 'Shovel Kings' Rafferty reminisces about coming over to England as a boy. When he is offered a chance to return to Ireland, he can't contain his joy, but he quickly discovers that although nothing is wrong at home, nothing is right either. In 'Sinners' embittered guest house owner Delia, a woman who likes to be 'always in the right,' regards a visiting family with suspicion and in 'Madame Cassandra' O'Brien provides the reader with an opportunity to read the thoughts of a lonely wife. These stories are full of hurt, yet they are also measured and lyrical. Man Booker International Prize winner Alice Munro maintains that, 'Edna O'Brien writes the most beautiful, aching stories of any writer, anywhere.'

Read about O'Brien and listen to story extracts here.
Read a review here and here.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Beautiful Indifference ~ Sarah Hall

Hall's short stories have been described as 'satisfying and intriguingly open-ended, haunting the imagination long after the last page is turned.' The opening story in this collection, 'Butcher's Perfume,' is beautifully written in a curious mix of slang and dialect: Manda is fierce, but she isn't 'pelvic, or thick with glands and brawn' and her father is 'gristle right through to the bone,' while the passages to the city are a 'burnt-farm, red-river, raping territory. A landscape of torn skirts and hacked throats... and haylofts used to kipper children.' The story ends with an act of retributory violence which the narrator, Kathleen finds unsettling: 'I searched her face for some sign of disturbance and saw nothing favourable. Her eyes were that glisky blue, all bad charm and cheek.' In 'The Bees' the narrator muses about the past as she observes the mysterious deaths of bees in a London garden, while the Scandinavian landscape is remote and striking in 'Vuotjarvi'. The stories in this collection are accomplished and assured, and the language is always startling. As Clare Wigfall writes, 'These stories are dark, raw and heartbreaking. An immensely satisfying collection.'

Read a review here and here.
Find Sarah Hall's website here.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Pictures From Hopper ~ Neil Campbell

This collection of short stories draws on the work of American painter Edward Hopper. The stories are short and full of life - adultery, marriage, alcoholism, violence and humour. It's hard to resist the urge to find the paintings that correspond (or partially correspond) with the story titles and 'read' them together (I didn't resist the urge - I went with it and very much enjoyed myself). Campbell's stories are deftly executed snapshots of life. 'Sun on Prospect Street' takes a beautifully visualised and unsentimental look at friendship as the reader follows Leo and Joe past the glue factory, the railway, the canal and onto the playing fields where their football skills and loyalty are tested. 'Piccadilly Gardens' is a bleak, carefully observed story about loneliness, secrets and petty cruelties inflicted by people who have no hope, while 'Vigilante Man' is a compelling monologue from a father: 'I'm a rational man. I just wanted to protect my family.' In very few words, Campbell creates a real sense of place and space. Even the shortest of these stories benefit from his 'understated but penetrating vision'.

Read an interview with Neil Campbell here.
Read 'Cars and Rock's here.
Read a sample of the collection here.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Starlings ~ Erinna Mettler

Starlings, described as a 'daisy-chain novel,' offers the reader an almost bird's eye view of Brighton, sweeping and swooping from story to story, character to character. The opening story 'The View to the West Pier' races towards an deeply disturbing climax as Andy, a recently released paedophile, encounters siblings Oscar and Arabella at the park. 'Pebble-dashed' is a story about secrets and seeing, as photographer Alistair fails to notice what's right under his nose. In 'Editor' Louise, Jerry's beautiful neighbour becomes the most important person in his life, while 'Snip' is a story about a fateful train journey that takes place the night before Drew's vasectomy. Mettler writes well, her prose is fluent and compelling, and this collection of linked stories is a fascinating exploration of city life.

Visit Erinna Mettler's website here.
Read a review of Starlings here.
Read 'Underneath' here.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Household Worms ~ Stanley Donwood

Household WormsThere is something old-fashioned about this beautiful little book - the creamy paper, the soft, corrugated cover - it's a book that needs to be touched. The cover illustration is perfect for the slightly odd, surreal and out of kilter narratives that characterise the collection. There are forty one stories, some are quite traditional in length and structure, others, like the two sentence 'Day Dream' are tiny. The opening story 'Wage Packet' is a desperate, yet hilarious account of working in a restaurant kitchen manning the waste disposal machine, affectionately known as The Pig. Many of the stories are fragmentary; 'Lachrymose' contains a recipe for Tear Wine. An unusual alternative to football is proffered in 'Sky Sports,' while 'Romance' takes the form of an overheard conversation. There is also a tremendous sense of fun in this collection - as is seen on page 94 which contains just five words: 'Nothing seemed to be happening.'

Read a review here.
Read an interview with Donwood here.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Everyone's Just So, So Special ~ Robert Shearman

The stories in this unique collection are linked by a crazy and entertaining historical rant (which may require a magnifying glass to read). It often feels as if the history/timeline and the italicized story which is nestled within it is an elaborate joke (I'm pretty sure that it is), but then a particularly searing observation or unnerving comment will illustrate something about the desire we all have to be remembered, to be special, and the reader is suddenly wrong-footed into contemplation. Notable stories are 'Cold Snap,' a frightening and funny take on Santa, 'Restoration,' a beautiful and inventive story about history and memory, 'Without You, I Wouldn't Be Alive' guaranteed to make book lovers' hearts sing, 'Endangered Species,' and 'Acronyms' which I promise will make you crave a BLT made in exactly the way described. It's hard to capture the work of a writer whose stories are 'as light as souffles and nourishing as steak' (Jack Dann) but I attempted it in a longer review which I wrote last year.

Watch Rob reading at the launch.
Read a review here.
Read Rob's most recent work here

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Keys of Babylon ~ Robert Minhinnick

The Keys of BabylonSet in China, Wales, the U.S, Albania, Mexico and London, this collection of linked stories explores migration. The collection is divided into two sections, the first shows characters searching for better lives, the second revisits the characters on the 13th August allowing the reader to discover what has happened to them. The first story 'At a Dictator's Grave' follows Mic from Albania to Kings Cross - 'the centre of the world' - where he remembers his past in the Champagne Bar at St. Pancras Station with a prostitute, Li. Later, in the second half of the book the reader revisits Mic in his hostel to see him looking for Li while in terrible danger during the night. 'In Those Days There Were Lions in Iraq' introduces the reader to disenfranchised environmental campaigner, Mascen whose acquaintance, Mohammed, reveals how he was able to 'rescue' various items from a Baghdad Museum and use the proceeds to build a new life in Poole, Dorset. The return to Mascen's story is more hopeful than Mic's but it is still laced with sadness. It's hard to do justice to almost three hundred pages of meticulously researched, exquisitely written prose in a couple of hundred words.

Read a review of the collection here.
Read about Minhinnick's work here.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Smoked Meat ~ Rowena Macdonald

This collection has been described as, 'Deliciously erotic and hugely readable, with some wonderful moments of illumination.' Smoked Meat is set in Montreal and Macdonald takes the reader on a journey through the seedier side of the city, exploring the interlinked relationships and secrets of those who live there. The first story, 'Brian, McMurphy & Sally Too' tells the story of long time friends Brian and McMurphy who grew up in Gimli, 'a deadbeat town on the outskirts of Winnipeg where the biggest thrills were shooting up horse tranquilisers and playing chicken on the railroad track.' Their friendship is jeopardised when McMurphy falls in love with irritating life model, Sally. The reader recognises familiar characters as they continue to crop up in a variety of stories; 'Down to 'Rue Beaudry' tells the story of Henry who is unfaithful to his girlfriend with a man he meets in a sauna. The story is followed by 'Slow Burn' which offers neighbour child Esme's perspective on Henry's infidelity, and Henry's girlfriend Corinna's story is further explored in 'Double Take.' The exploration of character from differing viewpoints gives Macdonald's collection a real sense of place and community.

Read an interview with Rowena Macdonald here.
Read a review of Smoked Meat here.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

This is the Quickest Way Down ~ Charles Christian

This is the Quickest Way Down (Proxima)This is the Quickest Way Down is a collection of dystopian, sci-fi, urban gothic and dark fantasy short fiction, as suggested by its striking cover. The opening story 'Waiting for my Mocha to Cool' is a fragmentary narrative, stuffed with pithy character descriptions and entertaining observations: 'the most clinical, obsessed, workaholic, emotionally sterile, empty, unlived-in woman to have ever walked the planet;' 'he gets his nose so far up people's arses he should change his name to Pinnochio.' In 'Already Gone' three men steal a car with unexpected consequences and in 'More Important than Baby Stenick' the reader experiences a slice of life in a present-day dystopia. The title story 'This is the Quickest Way Down' sees 'cute chick' Kali surprise the tipsy narrator while in 'Confessions of a Teenage Ghost Hunter' it's the reader who is surprised. This is a pacy collection, full of surprises and contrasts.

Read the title story here.
Read a review of the collection here.
Visit Charles Christian's website here

Monday, 16 April 2012

Last Fling ~ Sue Gee

This collection is novelist Sue Gee's first and these stories have been described as, 'affectionate portrayals of eccentricity' mixing 'toughness and sharp social comedy with heartbreaking valediction.' Gee's prose is elegant and restrained. The opening story, 'In Bratislava' explores the loneliness of a man whose wife has left him. It is a quiet, sad story in which what is not said is often more important that what is said: 'You make me feel -' the man tells the waitress he meets on a lonely business trip. The title story has an irresistible beginning: 'Last Fling. Musical F, 60, ill and unlikely to recover, seeks tall, kind, clever man for loving companionship in whatever time is left.' Fran wants 'one last go' but changes her mind following a course of chemotherapy. The story is beautifully written and exquisitely sad; full of regret and loss, but illuminated by the tenderness of the relationship between Fran and her sister, Steff. Shena MacKay claims that Gee writes with 'heartbreaking valediction in stories dealing with illness and loss' and this is certainly true.

Listen to 'Back' here.
Read a review of 'Last Fling here.
Download a PDF extract of the book here.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Campfire Chillers ~ Dave Jeffery

Campfire Chillers by Dave JefferyIn Campfire Chillers the Scoutmaster tells a series of thirteen dark tales. 'The Grave' is a story of retribution and violence, laced with gory humour and gruesome details: 'As his mouth hung open, the grass in front of the headstone ballooned for a few seconds before erupting like a festering, green, hairy zit, spewing earth and disgorging blind, crawling creatures onto the ground.' In 'Rock Face' a fissure in a mountain isn't what it seems, in 'New Boy' an unfamiliar boy scout waits for young Robert Moyles to notice him and in 'Cold Compass' an exercise on Dartmoor goes horribly wrong for two Adventure Scouts. These stories are grisly and macabre. The Scoutmaster tells stories in which 'the great outdoors have never been so chilling.'

Visit Dave Jeffery's website.
Read an interview with Dave Jeffery here.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Silver Wind ~ Nina Allan

The stories in this collection are linked and the characters reappear in interweaving narratives. The first story, 'Time's Chariot' is an uncomfortable story featuring a dysfunctional family with an absent father, a disinterested mother, a benevolent uncle and a pair of incestuous siblings. The story centres around two life-changing events; Martin's birthday gift of a Longines watch and the death of his sister, Dora. These events are subtly linked when Dora confesses, 'Clocks make me nervous sometimes... They remind me of how little time we have left.' The collection has been described as 'a disturbing meditation on time.'

Read a story by Allan here.
Read a review here.

Friday, 13 April 2012

One Thousand and One Nights ~ Hanan Al-Shaykh

One Thousand and One Nights is Lebanese writer Hanan Al-Shaykh's re-imagining of nineteen stories from the Arabian Nights (as they tend to be known in the west). Al'Shaykh's prose is seamless and beguiling and it's hard not to feel that, like King Shahrayar, the reader is in the process of being bewitched by a master story-teller. Al-Shaykh believes that Shahrazad's  weapon is 'art at its best' and she admires the simplicity of the language of the original stories, noting that it is 'the language of those who didn't reach for a dictionary but expressed their true, crude, raw and intense feelings.' Al-Shaykh's re-imagining is written in deceptively simple prose. The reader is eased into a series of beautifully written stories that loop and sweep into each other as the book unfurls like a collection of Russian dolls. Some of these stories, such as The Fisherman and the Jinni' are humourous; others, like 'The First Dervish' are violent; many of the stories are erotic, brutal and poetic, and the book itself is an object of beauty that puts ebooks to shame.

Read the Forward here.
Read a review here.
Read an interview with Hanan Al-Shaykh here.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dancing in the Asylum ~ Fred Johnston

Dancing in the Asylum has been described as 'an unexpected portrait of a place and its people in a time of great change.' In the title story an alcoholic named Pritchard wakes up in hospital after a bender. Pritchard is spectacularly deluded and selfish, and the story explores his dawning awareness of the circumstances which led up to his hospitalisation: 'There were things groping and crawling their slimey way up from his memory that he did not want emerging into the light.' In 'Ship of Fools' a young refugee tells his story with 'the strained rhythm of a recitation... a story whose truth was hidden under too many applied coats of panic and loss.' When refugees try to become a part of the community they discover that acceptance is 'not a song you [can] sing or imitate' because no outsider knows the 'music of the village.' While the villagers make a show of welcoming the young man in front of the tourists, seeming to say through him, 'look how colourful and rich is our understanding of the world,' their acceptance is superficial and tragedy lurks around the corner. The stories in this collection are carefully observed, skillfully executed studies of loneliness and isolation.

Read Fred Johnston's blog here.
Read an interview with Fred Johnston here.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Married Love ~ Tessa Hadley

In this elegantly written collection Tessa Hadley presents twelve stories about family relationships. In the title story nineteen year old Lottie marries university lecturer Edgar Lennox. Hadley deftly sketches the reactions of each family member with Noah, Lottie's brother, offering perhaps the most concise, yet alarming observation: 'He knew how passionately she succumbed to the roles she dreamed up for herself. She won't be able to get out of this one, he thought. She can't stop now.' And indeed, Lottie doesn't stop. She produces three daughters in quick succession, confessesing in the final scene of the story, 'I'm grey... My life's so grey.' Hadley's short stories read like miniature novels; her characters are vividly drawn, their experiences compelling, their humanity familiar. My favourite story is 'Friendly Fire' in which Pam and Shelley do a 'scrub-off' clean at an industrial warehouse. Pam is a woman who always drives with the interior light on, she treats her car 'just like another room in the house' and she is 'fat like a limp saggy cushion.' Shelley's son is in Afghanistan and she finds that she is 'always waiting for some dreadful kind of message.' Hadley explores friendship and family in this tender and funny story.

Read reviews here and here.
Read an interview with Tessa Hadley here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A Pitying of Doves ~ Felicity McCall

A Pitying of DovesThis collection of linked stories is set in South Armagh. McCall has said that while the collection is fiction, it also contains an 'element of memoir.' The first story, 'The Cardinal Conway Essay Prize' explores themes of belonging, alienation and loss of innocence as Evie discovers that despite her excellent prose, she is 'the wrong writer.' In 'A Mother's Love' people speculate about Mary's past, but she has 'perfected the art of anonymity.' McCall takes the reader back into the past to see and understand the reasons for Mary's reticence. The title story explores the 'deconstruction and disposal of the trappings of a life' as Evie watches her mother come to terms with her father's death. McCall writes with a quiet dignity and a keen eye for detail in a collection that has been described as 'refreshingly dispassionate and coolly humane.'

Read an article about the book here.
Visit McCall's website here.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Quiet Houses ~ Simon Kurt Unsworth

'Quiet Houses' is a collection of linked ghost stories. At the conclusion of the collection investigator Nakata maintains, 'I have tried to show that there are places we can't yet understand, that there are places where the quietness lets some of us experience things differently.' The fact that many of the stories in this collection are quiet (think measured, restrained) doesn't impede upon their power to chill and horrify. In 'The Elms, Morecambe' widower Wisher is haunted by the ghost of a girl who makes everything cold and miserable. 'The Merry House, Scale Hall' is a frightening, epistolary story that offers a horrifying explanation for the disappearance of fourteen local children. In 'Beyond St. Patrick's Chapel , Heysham Head' Nakata is chased by underground trails which move like worms 'burrowing through the dirt just below the surface of the earth... questing ceaselessly onwards.' This collection has been described as 'quietly impressive, quietly ambitious and loudly terrifying.'

Read 'The Elms, Morecambe' here.
Read Unsworth's blog here.
Read a review of 'Quiet Houses' here.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Somewhere in Minnesota ~ Orfhlaith Foyle

somewhere in MinnesotaFoyle's work has been described as 'compelling and memorable.' This collection is littered with flawed characters, secrets and violence. In the title story Frankie doesn't appear to want love - her partner Peter thinks that perhaps she just isn't 'built for it.' Unable to find happiness in the present, Frankie looks back with a kind of nostalgia to the moments after her father last hit her: 'He stood back and waited a few seconds before he fixed my hair behind my ears.' The story is shocking and sad. 'The secret life of Madame Defarge' is a beautifully written exploration of violence, as is 'Two Vampires,' a horror story which starts like a joke: 'Two Vampires cross the road, enter a cafe and order eggs.' The reader is hoping for a less violent end in 'Sweet Frankie' however, the adults in the story appear to be helpless to prevent it. The collection concludes on a redemptive note in 'The Kiss' as Dennis looks at Ruth's black and green bruises: 'I smelled the medicine from the bandages,' he says, 'and I just kissed her.'

Read 'The Secret Life of Madame Defarge' here.
Read Orfhlaith Foyle's blog here.
Read an interview with Foyle here.
Read a review here.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Book of Blues ~ Courttia Newland

A Book of Blues is a collection of thirteen contemporary stories, 'threaded with the constant pulse of music.' The first story, 'Beach Boy' explores ethnic tensions and stereotypes in Lamu. Palermo is frustrated when the local young men call him mzungu, Swahili for white man: 'to hear it referred to him meant they knew where he came from but didn't give a damn about heritage and culture and roots, or any of the things he'd been writing about for ten years, possibly more.' The local young men are intimidating and hostile, and the reader becomes increasingly anxious for Palermo's safety as the story progresses, but the final scene is one of contrast rather than conflict. In other stories, a young mother in 'All Woman' practically sings the reader through prose that is written in a dialect so precise and musical, it can almost be heard. In 'Spider Man' jealousy sneaks up 'like a jewel thief' to wreak a relationship and in 'White Goods' a spider tattoo itches when the narrator is about to come into luck. Never predictable, fresh and entertaining, A Book of Blues is a cracking collection.

Read Courttia Newland's blog.
Read an interview with Courttia Newland here.
Read a review of A Book of Blues here.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Dogsbodies and Scumsters ~ Alan McCormick

Dogsbodies and ScumstersThese stories have been described as 'chillingly understated, delicate and disturbingly hilarious.' The collection opens with 'Deal or No Deal,' the sad and funny story of Brenda who is 'her own worst enemy.' In this story and many of the others in Dogsbodies and Scumsters, McCormick demonstrates his skill at laying bare the internal logic of damaged minds. 'Real Mummy' is a chilling story of criminal incompetence, while 'Mad Mike' has echoes of Jekyll and Hyde. There is some lovely language in this collection; in 'Reasons to Swim Inside the Sky' canals are described as 'mustard smelling trenches of blink-and-you-miss-it spam splatters of colour.' The book is complemented by Jonny Voss's extraordinary illustrations.

Read stories and enjoy the illustrations here.
Read an interview with Alan McCormick here.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Ten Stories About Smoking ~ Stuart Evers

Ten Stories About SmokingTen Stories About Smoking is an accomplished collection; it's a collection that allows its reader to relax, confident in the knowledge that each story will be a satisfying experience. Evers concentrates on moments of realisation and disappointments that are at once small and shattering. There is a pervasive sense of nostalgia, both for a time when it was easier to smoke and for a time before isolation and unfulfilled ambitions changed the landscape of the  characters' lives. My favourite story is 'Things Seem So Far Away, Here,' in which Linda visits her successful brother and fantasises about leaving her own life behind. The dialogue is spare and incisive, and the relationship between Linda and her niece Poppy is beautifully observed. As I approached the end of the story, I sensed what was coming and even though it is quite devastating, it is perfect.

Read a review here.  
Read an interview with Evers here.
Read Evers's blog here.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

12 Days of Winter: Crime at Christmas ~ Stuart MacBride

Twelve Days of Winter: Crime at Christmas (short stories)This ebook collection of linked short stories playfully follows the pattern of the well-known Christmas carol. The first story is called, 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree,' the second, 'Turtle Doves' and so on. Despite this playful structure, the stories are violent and macabre. In 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree,' fat Billy Partridge - desperate for 'a joint and a packet of Jaffa Cakes' - has to steal Monet's 'The Pear Tree' in order to pay a debt. In 'French Hens' a restaurant owner finds a novel way to deal with a critic and in 'Calling Birds' Tracy makes an unwelcome discovery while she operates the 'Sexy Sadie' phone line. 'Geese a Laying' sees prison guard Val take extreme steps to have a baby and in 'Drummers Drumming' PC Richardson's dangerous plans go awry. Although many of the stories are gruesome, most are simultaneously funny; think Hot Fuzz in North East Scotland.

Visit Stuart MacBride's website here.
Read an interview with Stuart MacBride here.